Port of Call
New maritime museum highlights Ludington’s historic harbor and Lake Michigan ties.
By Marla R. Miller
A tribute to the city’s rich maritime history, which at one time included nine car ferries, the new Port of Ludington Maritime Museum features authentic and interactive exhibits for all ages in the former U.S. Coast Guard Station. The historic, craftsman-style building on the channel, a landmark itself, opened in 1934 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We were the natural choice to preserve this bit of our history,” said Rick Plummer, executive director of Mason County Historical Society, which operates the museum. “Ludington has a rich and storied maritime history, and this museum is dedicated to telling that story.”
Greeted by a holographic image of Nels Palmer, a famed Coast Guard captain, visitors move into an open exhibit space featuring a replica lighthouse children can climb, a Fresnel lens from Big Sable Point Lighthouse, and wooden canoes and boats built in Ludington.
Exhibits and artifacts are making their way into place, like the Fresnel lens shown top center from Little Sable Point Lighthouse.
The museum delivers a high-tech and hands-on experience, with state-of-the-art exhibits including a re-creation of the Pere Marquette 22 ferry deck, Captain Andy Van Dyke’s quarters and the pilothouse. Guests can pick a scenario and man the wheel, piloting the ferry into Ludington’s harbor or across Lake Michigan at night as it is simulated on multiple screens.
Besides original artifacts from the Coast Guard, car ferries and other maritime history, the museum features a 30-seat theater and three floors of exhibits. Displays include 200 model lighthouses from across the country and Michigan, replica ships built by a World War II Navy veteran, and an exhibit on Lake Michigan shipwrecks. The museum opened in June and was a community effort, designed to capture the region’s car ferry, shipping, lifesaving and shipwreck history and anchor Ludington as a year-round tourist destination.
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